Self Previews Tough Road Swing at Weekly Press Conference
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Hitting the road for games at Colorado (Dec. 7) and at Florida (Dec. 10), Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self discussed both in his weekly press conference held on Thursday.
Q. You made the comment that you were concerned about the team playing too casually. How do you do that and still get the confidence of the young guys?
COACH SELF: We don’t consistently play with the sense of urgency that teams here in the past have played it would probably be the best way to put it. I think a lot of that is our veterans need to do a better job of educating our younger guys on exactly what level you have to play at all the time and your focus and your attention. The UTEP game was a great example. We didn’t play great against UTEP, but they scored 18 points the last 1:49 off of guys just not concentrating and focusing.
So it’s one thing to say you want to play harder, but also a lot of it isn’t so much just playing harder but our focus and our concentration is so short right now.
I think it is a delicate balance; harder, faster, tougher, and then, okay, now we need to think and execute and all that kind of stuff. But until you don’t have to coach energy and things like that, then your execution will never be very good.
I even heard (North Carolina head coach) Roy (Williams) say that about his team the other day. That’s what I’ve been telling my guys all along. If we have to coach energy or passion, then obviously your execution won’t matter. It’s not that our guys don’t play hard. I’m not saying that at all. I just think that there’s another notch we’ve got to take it to before we can be very good.
Q. When you look at college basketball, North Carolina has two of the best wins and two of the worst losses.
COACH SELF: Right.
Q. They’re obviously a well-coached team. What does that say?
COACH SELF: I’ve watched them (North Carolina). They’re playing young, too. They’re starting three sophomores, a freshman and a junior maybe, something like that. So they’re young and they’re going to go through ups and downs. Of course I’m not an expert on any other team other than ours and not really a great one on that one most of the time.
But I do think that youth is a big reason why. We take for granted that the ball moved so good last year. We didn’t play with unbelievable energy – from chest bumping and that kind of stuff every game – but we had a focus that ‘this is what we do, this is who we are, this is how we guard, this is how we rebound,’ and this team just hasn’t gotten there yet.
Now, it doesn’t mean we won’t get there and we won’t get there soon, but we haven’t gotten there yet. I think so much of it is youth.
I think the Duke game spoiled us a little bit because with a bunch of young kids out there playing a certain way, I think things fell right for us during that game. Also, there were guys geeked up to play, so there was kind of an adrenaline flow to that game. When you remove the adrenaline flow, we don’t compensate as well if we stay playing at that energy level, so to speak. That’s probably speaking in code, and I didn’t understand what I just said, so I doubt you did, either.
But yeah, I think youth is a big reason why, just not the maturity yet.
Q. The ball movement, is there anything other than youth? Is it the type skills you have?
COACH SELF: Obviously, we haven’t shot it well at all yet, so that’s not saying anything negative. We haven’t shot it well at all yet, so naturally teams aren’t really guarding us, kind of playing halfway in between, so you make some shots and you force bad closeouts and things like that and we’re probably not going to look as good offensively as what we have maybe in the past.
But there have been times last year with the ball — hey, in February the ball stuck and we didn’t play very well or move it very good, either. We go from Towson and Duke, and Iona (but won) — we talk about Iona how we didn’t play well, and Iona is beating everybody bad. We’ve had some really good wins, but we just didn’t have a good three days in Nassau from a getting-better standpoint. Certainly, it was highlighted by a loss to Villanova, but Villanova is a top-15 team and we had the lead by one with 12 seconds left. It’s not like everything is broken, we’ve just got to pay more attention to detail and really concentrate better.
Q. Seems like Andrew Wiggins has more swishes and airballs than most guys. What does the swish tell you, that he is a pure shooter?
COACH SELF: I think pure is a stretch for anybody on our team. I’ve only coached two or three pure shooters ever, so I wouldn’t say pure, but he can make shots. The thing about it is with our guys, and this is just youth, be aggressive, be aggressive, be aggressive, but let’s make sure we take the hardest shot we can take on the first possession, so that way if it doesn’t go in then our confidence is lost and loses aggressiveness.
You can be aggressive and get that shot any time and we haven’t quite figured that out yet. It’s not anything selfish. He’s doing exactly what I tell him to do, be aggressive. But we’re going through it with all our guys. I think Wayne (Selden, Jr.), Andrew White III, Conner (Frankamp), the little bit that he played, Brannen Greene, positively, are all the same way, and, of course, Andrew. Coach says be aggressive, and their minds say, ‘Well, he wants me to look to score, shoot.’ A lot of times that’s not necessarily true; just have a presence out there at all times and you’ll get aggressive within the flow as opposed to trying to force it a little bit.
Q. Who would you say are the two or three pure shooters you’ve had?
COACH SELF: Tim Gill at Oral Roberts I would say. I’d say Connor (Teahan) and Tyrel (Reed) are close. I don’t know if we’ve had anybody pure here.
Q. What about Brandon Rush?
COACH SELF: Brandon Rush would be the purest shooter we’ve had here.
Q. Have they responded at all in practice from maybe being disappointed?
COACH SELF: Yeah, we’ve had a good week. We’ve gone hard this week. You know, this is one thing about my guys that I need to be careful of. Guys, it’s a marathon, and you’re going to have games where you don’t play your best. The key is to win the games where you don’t play your best, and we didn’t do that one time against a top-20 team on a neutral floor. And with young kids it’s going to happen.
I can get frustrated about why it happened, but I’m not going to get frustrated because it happened because to me you can play the right way and be excited and this and that, and you can run into somebody that just plays a little better and they beat you or whatever the case may be.
But the reason I was disappointed was because I thought that during the weekend we didn’t play with the same energy or passion level that I think we played at earlier times this year.
Q. The playing of zone defense seems to be way up. According to a Wall Street Journal story, Kentucky coach John Calipari called up Syracuse Jim Boeheim and asked him for his advice on defense. I wonder whether you guys think about things like that?
COACH SELF: Yeah, sure we do. We’ve got a zone that we can play. We practice our zone just about every day.
In my opinion, this is just me, it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so why would I bail the guys out now to play a way to win a game when I know that’s not how we have to win games when it counts the most? That would be like saying, okay, against this team, because they have really crappy ball handlers, we’re just going to press this one team and then we’re not going to press any other teams, but we’re going to do that to try to win this one game or make it look good, when we know when we get into other play that’s not what plays best to us.
I’ve always been a believer of that. I think you send a bad message if you practice this way — this is who we are, this is what we do, but you know what? We’re not any good at that, so let’s just do something else. What message are you sending the kids? Well, Coach, we can play zone to stop them. I want the kids to think if I ever say, well, we can’t guard them, let’s go zone — we ain’t going zone. That’s the mindset I want the kids to have.
I don’t think it — if it gets to January where we need to do some different things, we’ll do different things. We always have. We’ve sprinkled in trying going two or whatever, but I just don’t think you bail kids out right now if you know in your heart that we’ve got to get great at something and you’re going to say it’s okay not to be great, we’ll just go to something else.
Q. Do you like man-to-man because of the accountability aspect, or is it just a better defense?
COACH SELF: Well, here’s what I think. What’s the best pitch in baseball? Fastball. It’s the hardest pitch to hit if the guy really knows what to do. Well, the hardest defense to score against is man-to-man if you know what you’re doing. So in my opinion — now, Boeheim, Jim, may feel totally different. It’s good to sprinkle in other things. I understand that. But guys, we’ve been here 10 years and I think we’ve finished in the top 10 in field goal percentage defense in America nine of the 10, and then the crappy year we had we were 12th. So it works. It works for us. But it hasn’t worked for this particular team yet.
But I’m going to be really frustrated if we can’t teach the kids how to guard. If we can’t teach the kids how to guard, then I don’t feel like this team has a chance to be nearly as good as what I originally thought we could be.
Q. 50 years ago were they doing that?
COACH SELF: I think they probably helped more 50 years ago because you didn’t have a three-point line and all that stuff. Now, the hardest thing to guard is the ball and there’s so many good little creative guys out there with the ball. Now, 6’7″ guys are creative with the ball out there and the rules suggest that if a guy can really drive it, the entire favor goes to the offense rather than the defense.
It’s harder to play good man this year than what it has been in years past, but it’s not so hard that we’re going to give up on it.
Q. How do you teach the team’s principles to follow? If one newcomer, one of these freshmen really shows that he’s into that, does everybody follow?
COACH SELF: I think not only with the newcomers, I think with our veterans, too. The thing that I found out, and this isn’t being remotely negative at all, (is that) you don’t change personalities once they step on the court. If a guy is quiet, more than likely he’s probably going to be quiet. We’ve got some guys that are really, really, really quiet guys. I mean, Perry Ellis has improved so much in so many areas and he’s more vocal and this and that, but he’s never going to be that Kevin Young type. Never.
Tarik (Black) really hasn’t had a chance to play much because of fouls, and Andrew (Wiggins), he’s kind of looking around thinking instead of playing. He’s a quiet kid. Really, of the guys that start, there’s only one guy that has that personality that could be that and that would be Wayne Selden.
That’s something we have to improve with as a team and our players have to accept the fact that that’s something we’ve got to make a conscious effort every day to get out of the comfort zone and be better at, because you’re exactly right if I understand what you’re saying. It’s contagious; when one or two start doing it, they’ll all start doing it.
But there hasn’t been the type of leadership, either from a young guy stepping up and kind of going out on a limb, or even a veteran guy, as what I probably would have hoped by now.
Q. Do the coaches want Wayne Selden, Jr., to be the vocal leader to step forward?
COACH SELF: Yeah, we want him to be the personality and, okay, now you’ve got to figure this that out, and it’s going to take a little time. We had the same issues back when we had Mario (Chalmers) Brandon (Rush) and Julian (Wright).
Q. People used to communicate by looking each other in the eye and talking —
COACH SELF: Oh, I’m not a psychologist, so I haven’t done any studies. But the studies that I have personally, within the individuals that I operate with, I would say social media — and video games — have totally taken away from putting people in position where they’re forced to talk. Even me: I don’t like talking on the phone to you anymore. I’d rather text somebody, and that kind of stuff.
So I think that that’s definitely a carryover in some ways. But it’s not that way with everybody. Some guys have personalities that no matter what, they’re going to be the aggressor and talk and that kind of stuff, and some guys don’t. But I do think that we put kids in positions where the need to exercise, the need to communicate verbally, things like that, are at an all-time low because of all the different other avenues they have to communicate or to spend their spare time.
Q. Communication issues, can they be coached?
COACH SELF: I think that we have recruited some really good players that, for the most part, are pretty quiet guys. Hey, Mario (Chalmers) was quiet. Brandon (Rush) was quiet. Those guys were all quiet, but they kind of grew into it over time. When we look at Mario, Brandon, Julian (Wright), Sasha (Kaun) and Darnell (Jackson), that team won a national championship, but they didn’t win it as freshmen. We started out 3-4 and 12-6 and that kind of stuff until the light kind of came on in a lot of different areas.
Hopefully this team doesn’t have to lose games to have the light come on. But I do think we have to get much more verbal. Much.
Q. Is your team ready for this road trip?
COACH SELF: Yeah, it’s going to be a hard road trip. I don’t know whoever did our scheduling, I don’t really understand. I’m the one who did it. But it’s probably not the wisest thing to have done. But you know what? We’ll come together. The Atlantis trip didn’t serve its purpose for coming together, so hopefully we’ll do a much better job when we go to Boulder.
Q. A story was done about Tad Boyle and Colorado not being known as “Allen Fieldhouse West”. Is that the first you’ve thought of that, that you wouldn’t have half of your fans there?
COACH SELF: Oh, no, I’ve known that all along. Since Tad got the thing rolling last year, I think they may have sold out — I could be wrong on my assessment, but I think they sold out like 8 out of 12 games last year or 9 out of 12 games. That doesn’t surprise me at all. If I was Colorado, I’d fix it where our fans couldn’t go. I’d be an AD that would say, okay, if you want to buy a ticket you have to do this, this and this, because the place is going to sell out regardless. We’ll have a fair share of people there. I bet we have a thousand fans there. But I think a thousand may be a high number, whereas in the past we probably had half the building. That’s a compliment to Tad.
Q. What is impressive to you about Tad Boyle? Seems to me he has a presence being a good basketball coach.
COACH SELF: I’ve said this many times. Tad and I were recruited the same year, and I knew I had no chance to go to Kansas when I was coming out of high school because they had already recruited one real slow white guard. So Tad looked forward to playing Oklahoma State because he could guard me and I looked forward to playing Kansas because I could guard him.
But I think Tad has a calming presence. I do. I think he’s done a great job; he doesn’t get rattled and I think his players respond to that.
Q. You were talking about energy, playing with the right kind of energy. It seems like you guys can always find that if you’re playing at home. You’re not going to play here for another couple of weeks the way the schedule falls. Will it be difficult to find that energy playing on the road?
COACH SELF: You know, when we won at Ohio State last year, it wasn’t the most energetic deal, but I do think it’s much easier at home. The crowd makes you play a certain way.
But on the road you should use just the opposite, use the energy of the building for the opponent as things to inspire you. If I’m a player, I’d take much more pride going to somebody else’s building and having success than winning at home.
You’ve got to win at home. I mean, it’s a home game. That’s what you’re supposed to do. But going and beating somebody else in their building, where the deck is supposedly stacked against you from a crowd standpoint, I think is what would spur me on. That’s what we need to make sure spurs our players on.
Q. Sometimes Frank Mason makes a little aggressive foul and then takes a shot —
COACH SELF: Sometimes?
Q. But don’t you like that from a freshman?
COACH SELF: Frank has been great, but he’s not vocal. Oh, no, Frank doesn’t talk, but he’s been great.
He had about as bad a two minutes against UTEP as a guy could possibly have to end the game. But if you’re going to line up the games, that’s hard to win on who our best player has been. You can make a case it’s been Frank, whether it be Duke, Villanova or Wake. I’m really pleased with him. But he’s got a lot to learn, too, but he’s trying. He tries hard every day. Every day he tries.
Q. What are your impressions of this Colorado squad?
COACH SELF: (They are) A little different than last year. They lost a glue guy on the perimeter in (Sabatino) Chen, and then of course (Andre) Roberson, who I thought was a terrific player. But basically, inside they have a low post presence (forward Josh Scott) that’s getting better all the time and he was really good against us last year. They may have as fast and as good of guards in transition as we’ll go against all year. Coach (Kurtis) Townsend said it would be the best transition offensive team we play all year as far as getting the ball up the floor quickly.
We’re familiar with them, and I’m sure they are with us. But they’ve got a nice team. They’ve won eight in a row. They should be confident. They’ve won away from home, and it’ll be a tough game, very tough. But fun.
Q. You guys haven’t shot it well this year —
COACH SELF: From the perimeter. Our stats are fine, but from the perimeter, yeah.
Q. Have you been in a situation like this where your best shooters might not necessarily be your best players?
COACH SELF: Yeah, sure we have.
Q. How do you balance that when you’ve got good shooters, but they’re not necessarily the guys you have in your rotation?
COACH SELF: You know, we need one of the three (Frankamp, Mason or White III) to step up, we really do. I don’t see any reason why we need to play six perimeter players because there’s no question that Frank and Wayne and Andrew and probably Naadir need to play a good portion of the minutes. That’s best for our team, no question, in practice every day or whatever. But one of those other five need to step up, and we probably need to figure out who that one is. Right now, to be honest, nobody has kind of distanced themselves on it. That would be something that would really help if that were to happen.
You can say we need to play more shooters, and that is true, but I guarantee you, you can get the ball to the third side quickly and force a bad close-out with the guys we’ve got in the game. That’s the kind of stuff that we need to really understand and address.
Q. Have you had a chance to watch much of the Big 12 yet?
COACH SELF: Not a lot. I’ve watched Okie (Oklahoma) State play and Baylor play. I watched Iowa State play in Provo, where they got a huge win.
Iowa State, to me, is the surprise team of the league. They’ve been good, real good. Oklahoma State is obviously terrific and loaded and Baylor is off to a good start, without question. Oklahoma is off to a good start. I think the league has had some good wins.
If you’re going to look at the surprise league around the country, you may make a case it has been the Big 12 and I’m pleasantly surprised. I even heard Jay Bilas say this: He said, I don’t know by the end of the season if there will be four better top-four teams in the country than what we have in our league. All the teams are pretty young, with the exception of Oklahoma State, and they’ll all have a chance to get better.
Q. What do you think of the Big 12-SEC Challenge, and what do you think about getting Florida in that?
COACH SELF: Well, I’m ecstatic. I think it’s a good thing. I do think, though, that in order to make it really good, it needs to be done somehow in a three- or four-day window where there can be promotion and all that stuff for it, because when it’s spread out over 10 days, you don’t get the same bang for your buck as you do with the Big 10-ACC Challenge or something like that. But I think it’s a positive thing.
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